More than a month ago this column warned that Democrats may get more than they bargained for if Gov. Steve Bullock called a special legislative session to balance the state budget. Unfortunately, that warning went unheeded and Bullock issued his call for the special session, which starts in Helena today.
These rushed sessions are the worst possible form of lawmaking not only because legislators have little time to read the bills and understand their complexity and “unintended consequences,” but because citizens will be almost completely excluded from the process, rendering the opinions of those most affected by the Legislature’s actions essentially moot and nullifying the “representative” form of government under which we are supposed to be living.
As pointed out in the Oct. 2 column, the Legislature, being a “separate but equal” branch of government has no restrictions or mandate to stick to the topics contained in Bullock’s call for the special session. Given the Republican majorities in both the Senate and House, it wasn’t hard to predict that the Republicans would use those majorities to quickly expand Bullock’s list of topics to include whatever they decided would affect the state’s budgetary quandary. In simple terms, while Bullock concentrated on raising taxes, shifting funds and withholding certain payments, Republicans generally prefer smaller government and fewer taxes and hence, would certainly want to look at reductions in spending rather than increasing taxes.
Last week, that prediction came true as Senate President Scott Sales, a Bozeman Republican, told reporters that’s exactly their plan. As the article explained: “A majority of all 150 lawmakers can vote to expand the agenda — and Sales said Republicans plan to do that, using their majority muscle. They control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, or 91 total votes.” In Sales’ own words: “I think the majority of our (Republican members) will agree that we just need some additional ideas out there in order to balance the budget.” The article ended with: “Republicans’ leaders have said they’re not very interested in raising taxes to help balance the budget, even if those increases are temporary,” which should be a very clear message to the somewhat deluded Democrats about how things are going to go.
If that wasn’t clear enough, the first bill to be submitted, which can be found on the Legislative Services Division website at http://leg.mt.gov/bills/specsess/1117/billpdf/HR0001.pdf, calls for a change in the rules by which the Legislature runs. To wit, the exclusion of this clause from the existing rules used by the 2017 Legislature: “(8) Upon request of the Minority Leader, the Speaker will submit a request for a fiscal note on any bill.”
What that means is that Democrat Rep. Jenny Eck, the House minority leader, won’t be able to even ask for an analysis of what fiscal impacts — positive or negative — any proposed bill will have on the state, its budget or its citizens. Making laws without determining their fiscal impacts is like driving blind — with the same predictable consequences.
To add to that irresponsible manner of lawmaking, the rules bill also eliminates the time normally required between committee approval and floor debate on legislation, which means legislators will be voting on bills they haven’t even had a chance to read. As for citizens, well, you’re not even in the game.
So hang on, fellow Montanans, because by the time you even find out what’s in proposed legislation — let alone how it may affect you, your family or business — it’ll be too late to do anything about it.